Those who mistreat us often try to shield themselves from the consequences of their actions by trying to create a false equivalence between their mistreatment of us, and our speaking out against that mistreatment. So when someone says “Stop oppressing me. You are harming me.” the bigot will try to respond with something like “Why are you shaming me? What about my beliefs? Where’s your tolerance, huh?”
This is patently ridiculous, but it can still trip up otherwise rational critical thinkers because they DO want to be tolerant, and they DO want to be better people than their bigots. So let me be perfectly clear – “I want to oppress you” and “I don’t want to be oppressed” are not two reasonable sides of the same coin. They are not both legitimate viewpoints. Trying to oppress someone is not a viewpoint, it’s an act that harms someone.
Do not let some troll tell you that calling out bullies makes you a bully. Calling out people for harming others is not remotely the same as perpetuating shame, stigma, bigotry, bullying or oppression. Calling out bullies makes you a hero.
This comes up in professional situations as well. I’m commonly asked how to call out fat oppression that happens at conferences, online spaces etc. without shaming the person doing the oppressing. While I’m often willing to give the benefit of the doubt that the person doing the harm is doing it unintentionally, I believe that our primary concern MUST be the well being of the people they are harming, and not the feelings of the person doing the harming.
So the first time I see someone engaging in oppressive behavior – if it’s not blatant and I feel they should get the benefit of the doubt – I’ll take that person aside or shoot them a private e-mail. But if their behavior doesn’t stop, then neither will mine, because they are harming people and I’m not going to sit idly by while that happens. So I’ll continue to insist that they stop harming people, I may enlist other people to do the same, I may start a petition or a letter-writing campaign. The difference between activism and bullying is intent – bullies intend to harm people. Activists intend to stop bullies from harming others.
This is summed up pretty neatly in something called The Paradox of Tolerance, coined by philosopher Karl Popper in 1945:
Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.
There is a beautiful article by Parker Malloy that further explains the concept and shows how it applies to the current situation in the US.
Basically, the assertion that we have to tolerate people who are actively trying to harm us is best stated as “Please participate in your own (and other people’s) opression by allowing me to oppress you (other people) with absolutely no pushback.” That’s bullshit and you don’t have to prove your tolerance by allowing someone to harm you or others. People are allowed to believe whatever they want. But when they try to turn their personal beliefs into actions that harm you, you have every right to speak up and fight back.
If you’d like some help dealing with trolls – you can check out the Complete Guide to Dealing with Online Trolls.
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